Lessons in Leadership

Lessons in Leadership

by:  George C. Ruotolo, Jr., CFRE

In the wake of the first wave of COVID-19, I, along with our team, reached out to clients and friends, as so many of us did, to see how they were doing personally and professionally. This temperature check became a valuable tool throughout these months to gauge the wellness of staff, clients, family, and friends and opened the door to something more.

I recognized this experience would create a clarifying moment for leaders. By connecting with accomplished, compassionate people, sharing their insights and experience, we could offer some essential truths. To capture their wisdom, I invited clients, colleagues, and friends to share with me their own stories through a series of Executive Chats. The need to contribute to the conversation of our time and to offer something back from lessons learned became apparent as each invitation was greeted with a resounding “Yes!” 

Connecting via Zoom, our conversations were casual and unstructured and allowed these leaders from all walks of life to be themselves and offer authentic reflections on their experience and their view of our ever-changing world.

Participants in the executive chats included varied professions from college presidents, Fortune 100 executives, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, nonprofit executives, bank presidents, to leaders in the Roman Catholic Church; everyone I spoke with shared a commitment to causes greater than themselves. All are involved professionally or as volunteers in the world of philanthropy. Universally, what they have seen through this time is the remarkable capacity of those with whom they work and serve to step up and do what has to be done: to continue to function effectively, serving the most vulnerable, and providing the fundamental services vital to our world with a grace and tenacity that is inspiring.

Here are three universal truths that resonated throughout my conversations.

1. We are all grappling with the impact of this reality.

No one is exempt. None of us ever imagined this would happen. From a global pandemic to a struggling economy to racial strife unlike what we’ve seen in the ’60s, the year 2020 has been marked with unprecedented hurdles. Yet, unlike other challenges, there is not a corner of our country untouched by this upheaval. While strides have been made, all believe we are far from being out of the woods. Many I spoke with shared their disappointment in national leaders and their concurrent inspiration with local leadership called to step up in the face of these compounding crises. 

From New York City to Paterson, New Jersey, Fairfield County Connecticut to Phoenix, Arizona, from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., the leaders with whom I spoke shared the common, unifying call: We are all in this together. 

2. We are resilient.

As we have weathered the first six months of this altered state, these leaders were quick to share the bright spots that have emerged. Nonprofit organizations that have existed in our urban centers feeding and serving our at-risk neighbors have found new sources of support as many people are seeking to do more for others. Health service agencies caring for our elderly have been inundated, and the response of donors and foundations has been swift and impactful. Great works that have been done for years in our community by institutions large and small are being called out for their fundamental contributions to our society as a whole. By all appearances, we are reaching a little further to make a difference in the world around us.

As we ride through the second and prepare for the third wave, the muscle memory from the first, the ability to pivot and adapt, is helping us all endure. We are expanding our capacity to emerge stronger, growing from the experience.

3. We are inspired by those around us. 

A consistent refrain during these executive chats was the strength that was gained from the examples around them, recognizing the incredible capacity of people to be creative and positive, contributing what they can to keep us all moving forward. People are finding ways to rally through this storm, caring for the sick and mourning the lost, educating our children, and offering hope, community, and connection to those in need. We are all seeking meaning and finding faith in the examples of others.

The challenges faced by the leaders and organizations represented in these conversations were unique to each, but at the same time reflected these common truths and more. Strong leaders are constantly learning, and open to adjusting their perspectives and plans. Their stories bolstered my belief in our collective generosity, goodwill, and willingness to seek out ways to strengthen one another and our communities.

Over the past fifteen weeks, we have shared excerpts from these conversations and posted the full chats on our YouTube Channel. We will continue to connect with leaders near and far, sharing their wisdom and insights. 

I invite you to take some time and listen-in for a dose of inspiration.

RA Executive Chats Playlist

Executive Chats Participants: Les QuickDavid KerstenHeather ThompsonDan RenaldoDr. Marie RaberFr. Fred AdamsonDr. Peter MercerMiki HuntingtonBobby WilliamsMary FrancoJoe NemmersTom ShipleyAdelaida SeversonMike KeeganJohn UzziAndrea Egan